You return from your latest shopping trip and are putting your purchases away. As you unpack your reusable shopping bags of the latest cleaning wonder, you look at your cleaning cabinet. It may actually qualify as a miniature superfund site.

As you look in the cabinet, you notice cleaners for polishing wood, cleaners for your stainless steel appliances, cleaners for the window/glass, carpets, drains, bathrooms; the list is endless. You admit to yourself that perhaps you like a clean house way too much and that you’ve got a soft spot for the high tech cleaning gadgets, but is any of it eco-friendly?

Consider your municipal water system – what do you think is the biggest challenge for them? It isn’t the organic waste that is difficult to deal with. Organic waste settles to the bottom where it is then taken care of by special enzymes. Chemicals are another story. Cities and municipalities have to use a series of filtration systems to remove chemicals from the water. Other chemicals are often added to help neutralize some of the more hazardous chemicals. However, this water isn’t even completely purified; it is merely purified enough to be pumped down the river, or into a lake.

If you think businesses and manufacturing facilities are the biggest problems – think again. They are closely monitored for chemical pollution to waterways. Homeowners like us are the real problem. With thousands of people on a local water system, and millions on a big city system it is impossible to control what gets washed down the drain or flushed down the toilet. While some offenses are blatant, such as pouring antifreeze or other used car chemicals down the drain, most comes out of ignorance, as most people assume that the manufacturer of the product is selling you something that is safe and look no further. But enzymes and cleaning boosters can have effects from altering the algae growth to reducing oxygen in the water, all of which can harm marine life.

So, what can we do? Like most things, it all begins with a little education. For instance, home cleaning can be done with several safer cleansers like alcohol, ammonia, bleach, detergent, oil and soaps. Make sure not to mix these chemicals since doing so can be deadly.

Take laundry, a common household activity, for example. While there are tons of fancy cleaners on the market, it really only takes a simple detergent to keep clothes clean. Bleach is great for light clothes. Soaking extremely dirty clothes first, and then washing with a simple detergent is generally effective. Most stains will come clean with the use of alcohol. Vinegar can help with grease or oil stains. What about glass and windows? A simple solution of ammonia and water mixed equally is all you really need. The best cleaner for wood surfaces is simply a mild oil soap. There are even natural, eco-friendly cleaning techniques for virtually every mess or stain out there that involve the use of oils created from things like peppermint and lavender!

The rule of thumb is if there are more than seven to ten ingredients in a cleaner, there is probably a better and more eco friendly choice. Next time you are shopping for home cleanup products you may want to remember that it’s not just buying or bringing your organic cotton bags, its what you put in, or don’t put in it.

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